Positive role models shape a healthy body image
Maybe you’re wondering “how can I improve my body image” in our body perfectionist culture?
Well, what if you knew when you were younger that all bodies aren’t the same?
Every body is different
That’s what 26-year-old pop singer and former “American Idol” contestant, Jax, wished somebody had told her.
This summer she posted “Victoria’s Secret,” a song she wrote about toxic body ideals. And clearly, it resonated – boosting her TikTok followers to over 11.9 million.
The song, inspired by a 14-year-old girl that Jax babysits, fights back against the body shame the teenager experienced while shopping at Victoria’s Secret for a swimsuit. When Jax picked her up from the mall the girl was crying. Her friends had told her that she was “too fat and flat” to wear a bikini, she shared on TikTok. And Jax could relate.
Comparing her body to photoshopped images of false ideals of health, fitness and beauty and “itty bitty models on magazine covers,” led to disordered behaviors with food.
“Can’t have carbs and a hot girl summer. The f—ing pressure I was under to lose my appetite, and fight the cellulite, with Hunger Games like every night” are lyrics from her song.
So, what would Jax go back and tell her younger self?
“I know Victoria’s ‘secret,’” she sings. “She was made up by a dude. She’s an old man who lives in Ohio, making money off of girls like me, cashing in on body issues, selling skin and bones and big boobs.”
Body appreciation shaped in youth
Boy did I need this song some four decades ago. I grew up in Victoria’s Secret culture.
Lamenting my cellulite and lack of “thigh gap,” I sunbathed slathered in Hawaiian Tropic oil, lounging on a plastic lawn chair in my backyard. My 16-year-old self thought being thin and baking in a tanning bed was the answer to my self-worth.
I bought padded bras and bikini tops. I ate my mom’s fat-free Snackwell cookies and Baked Lays potato chips, leaving me hungry too — for pasta with Parmesan and butter sauce. All my behaviors driven by wanting to fit in, belong and feel good in my skin.
How I wish I’d been exposed to diverse role models – real people representing health, fitness, and beauty. Instead, I would spend far too many years trying to attain one “ideal” look.
Role models crucial to body appreciation
Role models matter. They can shape a healthy body image. And body image is broader than just how we think and feel about our physique. It influences our sense of self, says Charlotte Markey, author of “The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless.”
So how can you improve your body image?
Seek out diverse health and beauty role models to create a positive shift for the next generation. Furthermore, it can help us all heal from toxic body messaging.
Heal from toxic body messaging
In addition to Jax, consider Melisa Raouf, 20, who will be the first to completely forgo makeup while competing for Miss England next month. The event introduced a “Bare Face” round in the competition in 2019. Why? Because most contestants were submitting highly edited images of themselves wearing lots of makeup. Organizers wanted women to “show us who they really are without the need to hide behind makeup and filters on social media,” said Angie Beasley in a New York Post article.
Raouf, who hopes to promote inner beauty and challenge the beauty ideals perpetuated on social media, says she been inundated with messages from other young women expressing how much confidence Raouf has given them.
Or how about 37-year-old, Molly Galbraith, co-founder of Girls Gone Strong? Her worldwide health and fitness movement focuses on helping women feel strong, confident and empowered in their lives and bodies.
In addition, we can also learn from Ali Stoker, the first wheelchair-using actor to appear on a Broadway stage and the first to be nominated for and win a Tony Award.
“We’ve been convinced to be more concerned with others’ experience of looking at our bodies than our own experience in living in our bodies” says Stoker in an Everyday Health article titled “Celebrities Who’ve Spoken Out About Body Image.”
And one of my favorite role models in athletics is 41-year-old mom and greatest of all time tennis star Serena Williams, who’s been outspoken about her body throughout her career.
“I look like a normal athlete,” Williams told the Miami Herald in 2015.
We’ve been taught for decades that all bodies can and should be the same shape to be worthy, healthy or beautiful. So William’s message can’t be shared enough.
Normalize normal bodies for body confidence
Consider how you might think and feel about your whole self if you grew up with role models who looked like you — without makeup, wearing a swimsuit or playing your favorite sport.
And let’s remember that the people who influence how we feel and think about our bodies the most are those we encounter everyday — teachers, doctors, coaches, parents.
Read more: Mom’s body attitude shape’s daughters
Jax says that “Victoria’s Secret” was her way to share her personal story with people of all ages and genders. Never compare your body to what you see on media. The song was intended as a message to all corporations, not just Victoria’s Secret, marketing toward people’s insecurities she told PopSugar.
“I hate the idea of anybody losing their sense of self-worth while someone else gets rich off of it” Jax says.
Ultimately, the whole point of her song is to normalize diversity in body types. And it’s working. She’s seeing a “million different shapes and sizes and colors and stories rocking out” to her song and feeling super confident in their skin.
We all can, because now we know Victoria’s real secret is, “She was never made for [real bodies like] me and you.”
Improve your body image by seeking out healthy role models. ♡ Tanya
[Originally published in the September 28, 2022 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide.]